High Court Sides With Navy In Sonar Dispute

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The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the Navy over its use of sonar in submarine-hunting exercises off the coast of Southern California. By a 5-4 decision, the nation's highest court said the military training commands a higher priority.


In a case that pitted military preparedness against possible harm to marine mammals, the Supreme Court has sided with national security. In a five-to-four decision, the high court gave the Navy the go-ahead to continue underwater sonar exercises off the California coast. That ruling is a blow to environmentalists who argued that the sonar harms whales and other sea mammals. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg has more.

NINA TOTENBERG: The court declared that the Navy does not have to take steps to mitigate even likely harm to whales, dolphins, and other sea mammals. Writing for the five-justice majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said that even irreparable injury to the mammals is outweighed by the public interest in effective realistic training of sailors.

The fact that the Bush administration has taken years and still has not completed the federal environmental impact assessment is irrelevant, he said, since the president, by executive order, has determined that the training is essential to national security. In dissent, Justices Ginsburg and Souter accused the president of short-circuiting federal law instead of going to Congress to get it changed. Justices Breyer and Stevens dissented on other grounds. Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.

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